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Month: June 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Vermont Sued by Food Behemoths; Ben & Jerry’s to the Rescue!

Author: Lee Ann Rush

You may recall that in April of this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such. The law, known as Act 120, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, before the ink was even dry on Governor Peter Shumlin’s signature, Vermont lawmakers and food safety lobbyists were gearing up for the lawsuits they felt would certainly follow. Sure enough, the Burlington Free Press has reported that on June 5, 2014, four prominent food manufacturing groups filed suit to invalidate Vermont’s Act 120.

According to the papers filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers in Vermont federal district court, Act 120 violates the Constitution, and an injunction to preclude its enforcement is necessary. “Vermont’s mandatory labeling law … is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” claims the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Yes, you guessed it — the crux of the argument as set forth by the food manufacturing groups is that GMOs are not harmful. Besides, being compelled to slap labels that they don’t agree with on their products is a violation of their First Amendment rights!

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition responded that Act 120 is solely about transparency. “The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” countered Falko Schilling of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Even though Vermont officials anticipated that Act 120 would be challenged in court, they acknowledge that defending this lawsuit could cost as much as $8 million, while a defense fund established to finance the effort has only raised about $20,000 to date. However, Vermont ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, which has made the move to disavow and stop using GMOs in all of its products, has recently announced via co-founder Jerry Greenfield that it wants to help save Act 120.

Ben & Jerry’s, now owned by food giant Unilever, is changing the name of its brownie ice cream to Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July, and will be contributing a dollar from each purchase at the company’s Vermont scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund. Several years prior to Ben & Jerry’s making the decision to eliminate GMOs from its products, Greenfield had testified on his own behalf in favor of GMO labeling before the Vermont Legislature, and is enthusiastic about the decision to ditch GMOs made by the company that still bears his name. “Now it’s all-in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.” So will the rest of us when this legal challenge to common sense is defeated. Stay tuned.

Vermont Sued by Food Behemoths; Ben & Jerry’s to the Rescue!

Author: Lee Ann Rush

You may recall that in April of this year, Vermont became the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such. The law, known as Act 120, is scheduled to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, before the ink was even dry on Governor Peter Shumlin’s signature, Vermont lawmakers and food safety lobbyists were gearing up for the lawsuits they felt would certainly follow. Sure enough, the Burlington Free Press has reported that on June 5, 2014, four prominent food manufacturing groups filed suit to invalidate Vermont’s Act 120.

According to the papers filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Association of Manufacturers in Vermont federal district court, Act 120 violates the Constitution, and an injunction to preclude its enforcement is necessary. “Vermont’s mandatory labeling law … is a costly and misguided measure that will set the nation on a path toward a 50-state patchwork of GMO labeling policies that do nothing to advance the health and safety of consumers,” claims the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Yes, you guessed it — the crux of the argument as set forth by the food manufacturing groups is that GMOs are not harmful. Besides, being compelled to slap labels that they don’t agree with on their products is a violation of their First Amendment rights!

The Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition responded that Act 120 is solely about transparency. “The people of Vermont have said loud and clear they have a right to know what is in their food,” countered Falko Schilling of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. Even though Vermont officials anticipated that Act 120 would be challenged in court, they acknowledge that defending this lawsuit could cost as much as $8 million, while a defense fund established to finance the effort has only raised about $20,000 to date. However, Vermont ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, which has made the move to disavow and stop using GMOs in all of its products, has recently announced via co-founder Jerry Greenfield that it wants to help save Act 120.

Ben & Jerry’s, now owned by food giant Unilever, is changing the name of its brownie ice cream to Food Fight! Fudge Brownie for the month of July, and will be contributing a dollar from each purchase at the company’s Vermont scoop shops to the state’s Food Fight Fund. Several years prior to Ben & Jerry’s making the decision to eliminate GMOs from its products, Greenfield had testified on his own behalf in favor of GMO labeling before the Vermont Legislature, and is enthusiastic about the decision to ditch GMOs made by the company that still bears his name. “Now it’s all-in,” he said. “I feel much happier about it.” So will the rest of us when this legal challenge to common sense is defeated. Stay tuned.

Teach Your Children Well

Written by: Lee Ann Rush

As though the skyrocketing numbers of obese children in the United States aren’t enough to wake us up to the need for immediate and dramatic changes to our overall lifestyle in this country, a sobering statistic cited by online publication PreventDisease.com underscores the urgency we face to drastically alter the current American diet of processed foods, sugar-laden drinks and fast food fare from the Golden Arches and their ilk: “Today, by the time the average child in a developed country turns eight years old, they’ve had more sugar in their lives than the average person did in an entire lifetime just one century ago.” Wow! How are these kids going to help save the planet if they’re too sick to care?

No one disputes the fact that children who have improper diets, eat too much sugar and get too little exercise are at risk for a myriad of health problems and social issues that have the potential to make them miserable and actually shorten their lives. I cringe when I see a mother in the grocery store buying a cart full of sweetened cereals, snack foods, sodas and candy that her overweight kids are whining for. The other night at a baseball game, the family sitting in front of me ate hot dogs, soft pretzels, cotton candy and ice cream while drinking big cups of soda, and then left well before the seventh-inning stretch. No surprise that both the parents and the two children were very heavy. It may be politically incorrect to make this observation, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why. Children learn what they see and experience. Poor diets often translate to obesity. Are these some of the same children who, as we saw in Chef Jamie
Oliver’s well-meant but largely futile attempts to teach young schoolchildren about proper nutrition, can’t tell a fresh tomato from a beet, carrot or a red rubber ball?

Bringing gardening programs into the public schools is one way to enlighten children to more healthy eating and encourage them to develop a taste and appreciation for fresh vegetables and naturally-sweet fruits. Another important step is to severely limit (I’d say eliminate, but as a parent I know how unrealistic that might be) children’s intake of fast food. The bottom line is this: fast food chain fare is of poor quality and that’s why they can sell it for such relatively low prices. To quote Jamie Oliver ‘s view of McDonalds: “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest way for dogs, and after this process {washing fatty meat parts in ammonium hydroxide before mixing them into the burger recipe}, is being given to human beings. Why would any sensible human being put meat filled with ammonia in the mouths of their children?”* Why, indeed? Because the FDA says it’s safe? Don’t get me started. The
more I research and write on Green issues, the more I see that being Green has a whole lot to do with being aware, and with using plain old common sense.

*As a result of Oliver’s efforts, McDonalds has, without media fanfare, announced that they have removed ammonium hydroxide from their meat sold in the U.S. McDonalds in the UK never used it; their beef is locally-sourced.

Does Gardening Education Have a Place in Our Schools?

I do quite a bit of reading about organic farming, the dangers of pesticides and genetically-modified (GMO) crops, holistic health and natural solutions to everyday problems, such as using vinegar to kill weeds or baking soda and lemon juice as a stain remover. As those of us active in the Green movement are all too aware, the various chemicals found in everything from car exhaust, common weed killers and plastic water bottles to packaged and prepared foods found in almost every supermarket are damaging our collective health and destroying our environment. Sadly, many children in the United States have no idea where their food actually comes from, or even what real food looks and tastes like. The fact that some school lunch programs are still categorizing pizza sauce and pickle chips as vegetables doesn’t exactly help the situation.

Many parents may recall their pre-schoolers or kindergarteners bringing home small dirt-filled flowerpots containing tiny plants that they had grown from the seeds they’d planted in class, watered each day and kept on a sunny classroom windowsill. Sadly, that basic science lesson is the only experience with gardening that many children will ever have. It seems clear to me that one crucial way to further environmental awareness in the general population is to make sure that our children learn where their food comes from, how it’s grown, and why eating foods free from chemicals and pesticides is essential to their future health and well-being. If we can show children this vital connection between ourselves and the earth, the future of the planet can’t help but benefit. To that end, organizations ranging from the National Gardening Association to the American Heart Association are advocating for more schools to implement gardening programs.
According to Judith Collier-Reid, a consultant for the AHA’s Teaching Gardens program that was established in 2013 with a mission of curtailing the epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States, “If the children are involved in growing the vegetables, then they are interested in eating them.” Exactly.

While it’s difficult to ascertain the number of American schools that currently include gardening as part of the curriculum, many districts across the country are implementing programs; some citing inspiration from Michele Obama’s White House vegetable garden. The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina report that almost all of the district’s 18 schools offer gardening, and that some donate produce to needy people in the area. “It’s a good way to get (both) families and the community involved,” observes Todd LoFrese, assistant district superintendent. Also a good way to improve our national health, and something deserving of far more attention and funding than it currently receives.

By: Lee Ann Rush

Now Do You Believe in Global Warming? (Part 2)

Those of us who support the Green movement and conscientiously work toward reducing our own carbon footprints have long understood that the continued proliferation of greenhouse gas emissions from industry, transportation and a myriad of other sources has, slowly but surely, resulted in the rising temperatures on the surface of the earth known as global warming.  Then there are those folks, and there are still plenty of them, who continue to believe that global warming is a myth concocted by Democrats and tree-huggers to justify their liberal, anti-business political agenda.  On the heels of the May 6 release of the National Climate Assessment, which details numerous ways in which the United States is already suffering the consequences of climate change and predicts much worse to come if this country fails to change its evil ways, the Obama administration has announced a plan designed to achieve a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2030.

In one of its biggest steps ever toward confronting the issue of global warming, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will, tentatively by 2015, finalize regulations creating the first national limits on the carbon dioxide emitted from this country’s power plants.  Currently, carbon dioxide pollution from power plants comprises a third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions that, collectively, make the U.S. the second-biggest culprit on earth in causing global warming (China has the dubious honor of being first).  According to Frances Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “The purpose of this rule is to really close the loophole on carbon pollution, reduce emissions as we’ve done with lead, arsenic and mercury and improve the health of the American people and unleash a new economic opportunity.”

The EPA regulation of carbon emissions is at the forefront of the Obama administration’s mission to convince other countries to join in the effort to reduce global warming when negotiations for a new international treaty continue in 2015.  Meanwhile, 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the United States.  Six states (Arizona, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and California) have set monthly heat records, eight (Iowa twice, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) set monthly precipitation records, two set draught records (New Mexico and Utah) and two set records for coldest monthly temperatures (Maine and North Dakota).  Yet, representatives from the oil and coal industries and business groups are calling the EPA rule and the report that precipitated it “alarmist.”  Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, feels that the new EPA regulation, “could singlehandedly eliminate (the U.S.’s) competitive advantage by removing reliable and abundant sources of energy from our nation’s energy mix.”

The way I see it, a national competitive energy advantage pales in comparison to a livable climate, sufficient food and water, and our citizens’ homes remaining on dry land.  Stay tuned; the fireworks over this issue are just beginning.

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